Open Data in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area

imageDid you Finns realize that there's a vibrant open data ecosystem growing in Helsinki? The global Open Data Day on 21st February also had a local manifestation: Open Data Day Helsinki Hackathon.

Whether you're deep in the bowels of an enterprise or busily hacking your next social media startup, it's easy to miss the public sector opening up. But at the Helsinki hackathon, there was definitely a buzz in the air. Here's a short recap of the key things I learned.

The Helsinki region cities publish a lot

There's an abundance of open data sets available from Helsinki Region Infoshare. Many of the data sets are static and updated only periodically, but some are also real-time APIs. For example, you can get an 15-megabyte Excel spreadsheet for every purchase made by the City of Vantaa. Or, you might treat yourself to an KML map data file of school regions in Helsinki. Or, getting more realtime, perhaps you'd fancy a real-time XML API of the location of snow plows in Helsinki?

The new tone of the Helsinki is "Open Source, Open APIs, Open Data, Open Government". To that extent, there is a group of developers within the city, and they run a site called dev.hel.fi which acts as a point of contact between the city and developers using its APIs. They also frequently arrange events that allow you to meet other developers to discuss specific topics: for example, the next event will be about environmental issues, and will have introductions from various authorities and stakeholders.

The Open Source part manifests itself as a GitHub account for City of Helsinki.

And if you want a broader reach, the 6Aika project is working to unify APIs and open data methodology between the six largest cities of Finland (Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa, Turku, Tampere, Oulu).

Journey Planner v.Next: Getting there, with more variety

The Helsinki Regional Transport authority HSL has offered Reittiopas, a journey planner for the Helsinki region public traffic, for years. It is about to be reincarnated: the next version is planned to be released for preview during the next summer. It will be based on open APIs – and will be implemented as open source.

The HSL dev site contains a lot of information on what's happening next, but the essence is this: there's already a lot of data available through open APIs. During 2015, there will be more real-time GPS data available. Also, supporting services such as parking areas near train stations will get their own data set: in the future, you will be able to check out if there are parking spots available at the time you plan to be there.

Even healthcare can be radically open

Janne Kääriäinen from Futurice presented some analysis of results from opening up the healthcare data silos in the United Kingdom. I didn't find the extremely shortly presented analysis convincing enough to blog about it, but Janne's presentation opened my eyes to see how extreme openness can get.

For example, the UK society of cardiothoracic surgery (in layman's terms: group of doctors who cut hearts and lungs) publishes death risk charts per surgeon. As the diagram to the right shows, if you happened to be operated by a gentleman called Qamar Abid (a randomly picked example), you would statistically be in good hands: his in-hospital mortality rate is below the national average.

Once we get this much data out in the open, the possibilities are endless.

Using Microsoft tooling

Microsoft was also one of the sponsors of the event, and the dynamic duo of Pasi Mäkinen and Drazen Dodik took the audience on a quick half-hour whirlwind tour of relevant Microsoft technology. I don't think the details of Microsoft's offering are much news to the readers of this blog, but here's a short recap of all the things Microsoft pushes in this space:

  • "Use the tools you know": Microsoft supports everything from native Windows tools and HTML5 to cross-platform tools such as Unity, Cordova and Xamarin.
  • BizSpark provides technological and financial support for startup companies.
  • Azure provides out-of-the-box support for open data frameworks such as CKAN.
  • API Management can help with publishing your data sources. Azure Marketplace Datamarket can provide a selling/distribution channel.

But whether or not you decide to go for Microsoft tooling, there's definitely plenty of things to be done. Enjoy!

March 10, 2015 · Jouni Heikniemi · No Comments
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